Buccaneers tight end Tyji Armstrong was acquitted Tuesday of aggravated battery for striking a Palm Harbor man last summer at a nightclub in Ybor City.
Armstrong punched Stuart Mischner, 34, once in the face at the Blues Ship Cafe on June 19. Mischner suffered facial injuries and lost several teeth.
Defense attorney John Fitzgibbons successfully argued that Armstrong acted in self-defense when the Bucs player saw his girlfriend struggling with Mischner inside the nightclub.
"I think the verdict shows that athletes are vulnerable to situations and this is clearly a situation where an athlete acted properly under the circumstances," Fitzgibbons said.
What began as a night out with friends for the two men, who had not met before the incident, ended when Mischner was punched in the face by Armstrong, who was charged with a second-degree felony.
According to defense witnesses, Mischner grabbed the neck of a beer bottle and raised it to Armstrong in a threatening manner after the Bucs player saw his girlfriend struggling with the Palm Harbor man inside the popular nightclub.
Lori Vadasz, Armstrong's girlfriend, testified that a few minutes before the fight, Mischner had grabbed her, placing his hands on her breasts and buttocks.
According to Vadasz, who is white, Mischner asked her what she was doing "with the n-----," referring to Armstrong, who is black. Vadasz also alleged that Mischner indicated he would like to have sex with her.
Mischner testified that he never touched Vadasz and spoke only briefly with her when she passed by on her way from the restroom. According to Mischner, he noticed the woman was upset and said: "Why are you crying? You should be smiling."
Mischner alleged that he then was spun around by Armstrong, who punched him in the mouth, knocking out three teeth and damaging several others.
Armstrong immediately left the club with his girlfriend, Bucs teammate Tim Ryan and another woman. It wasn't until a week later that Mischner identified his attacker to an undercover Tampa policeman at the Yucatan Liquor Stand _ another Tampa nightspot.
It took a jury of four women and two men about an hour to acquit Armstrong.
Armstrong and state prosecutor Art McNeil declined to comment Tuesday. Mischner was unavailable for comment.
In closing arguments, Fitzgibbons described Mischner as a "boor" who joined several of his former business partners who once co-owned a used car dealership on a "boys night out" of drinking.
Fitzgibbons also revealed to jurors that Mischner has filed a civil suit seeking unspecified monetary damages from the 23-year-old Armstrong, who is expected to earn $357,000 next year.
McNeil argued that Armstrong, who is 6 feet 4, 250 pounds, was never in any reasonable danger from the smaller Mischner, who is 6-0, 230.
"I think we're very, very pleased with the verdict, which we think was appropriate," Fitzgibbons said. "It's a situation where Mr. Armstrong was defending himself and did so reasonably."